This issue is guest edited by Leigh Buchanan Bienen, a senior lecturer at Northwestern University School of Law, and author of the collection of short stories The Left Handed Marriage. The issue is devoted entirely to theater-related essays and analysis, beginning with the editor’s essay, “Art, and the Art of Teaching,” which traces her own journey from literature to law to theater and back to fiction again and finally to a consideration of the teaching of art (in the largest definition of the word) in the context of the world’s dramatic – and unacceptably traumatic – realities: “If art is going to survive, people do have to stop killing one another, on the small and large scale, and beating up on one another, on the small and large scale, and learn to look at each other.” Finally, she equates the classroom and the theater, and by extension the space in which we perform our daily lives, too: “The real questions cannot be asked or answered alone, and they are asked most powerfully, when we listen knowing that others are listening with us at the same time, in a darkened space.”
Essays in the volume – most, if not all, by important and influential members of the theatrical and literary world – include considerations of an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore by director and acting ensemble member Frank Galati, followed by a “note” by Martha Lavey on Galati’s production; an essay by theater scholar Paul Edwards on theatrical adaptations of Madame Bovary; reflections on the creation of a theater company by Lookinglass Theater’s David Catlin; a brief essay on directing by the acclaimed director Anna D. Shapiro; and essay on meaning and purpose of theater by playwright Bruce Norris; an essay by fiction writer Stuart Dybek on the experience of collaborating on an adaptation for the stage; and a number of other essays by costume designers, playwrights, actors, scholars of the theater, and teachers. Most of the essays include wonderful personal stories and insights. All are highly readable.
One of the most exciting essays is poet Jana Harris’s piece about adapting a social science text about immigrant life in Chicago, published in 1924, for the stage. The play focuses on the story of a (real life) woman whose true identity remains a mystery and her advocacy work on behalf of immigrants. The essay heightened my interest in the nature of historically-focused research and writing, the role and representation of women in social work at the turn of the last century, and in Harris’s poetry. And isn’t that the purpose of the performing arts – perhaps any art – to intensify our interest and engagement with the world outside of the one(s) it reflects?